I have had the fortune to savour some of the most interesting meals. Not for how deliciously spiced or finely minced the food was, but because my fellows of the meal spoke intriguing words of wisdom, delivered simply yet with infinite grace.
I had the pleasure of enjoying lunch with Todd Shea, Cynthia Ritchie, and Sarwar Mushtaq- five of the central characters of this series. It was late February, the ice cold air of Abbottabad seeping through the walls and beneath the wooden doors of my house. The warmth of the heaters made our days enjoying, letting us stay clueless of the near 0 Celsius temperature outside. The great dining table catered for twelve people, though we had a few seats empty. Mum had lined the dishes such that a candle’s flame would keep the food hot. The door between the kitchen and dining swung back and forth, back and forth. In came fresh hot roti, jugs of sweet and salty lassi, and anything else that our beloved friends desired. Might I add, the rotis were perfectly round!
My family and I took our seats with our friends. There were conversations about everything, with hearty laughter at Todd expressing in Urdu, “Zaberdest dost!“¹ “Bohat accha!²” “Sir jee!” among other phrases. There were moments of passing around saag gosht³ and a lot of reminiscing over past journeys. Not to forget, Papa’s hilarious stories of travel; “one time, I and my friends were fasting in Europe. We were to break our fast around the time of the flight. I told my friends to not eat or drink, but wait till we had flown till our next destination. To my utter horror, when I looked outside our plane during take-off, the sun was rising…And we went further into the daylight hours. At the end of my 23 hours long fast, I had certainly lost ten kilos and five friends!” his anecdote met with roaring laughter. Then came the time for the royal meal of the day; Cynthia’s first roti baked freshly in our kitchen. Starting we Cynthia, we passed around the roti/unleavened bread so everyone could break off a piece. Months later, Cynthia and Sarwar reflected how we were quite literally breaking the bread Biblically (Acts 2:44).
As my eyes swept across a mysterious wrinkled face with eyes brighter than most I have seen (Sarwar), a lady gracefully focusing on her meal with her auburn hair pushed back from her face (Cynthia), and a jolly man with a smile playing on his lips wearing one of his rainbow spectrum t-shirts (Todd), I realised I really could tell nobody apart. When I would close my eyes, all I heard were similar words, tales of wonder, giggles, English and Urdu and the clatter of dishes. It was unclear who was mouthing what.
And in that one moment, I realised, there was no Christian, no Muslim, no Atheist, no American nor Pakistani sitting on the table. There were human beings who had evolved through pain and pleasure, had their share of suffering and joy, and now sat across from each other, having experienced whatever moments they had lived. There were stories, woven intricately like connecting dots, all leading to this one moment of breaking the bread and enjoying a dinner.
A Christian, a Muslim, and an Atheist went out for dinner. And became assimilated in the grand scheme of things as the artistic expression for why light, and not darkness, and love, not hate, essentially turns the universe on its ‘axis’.
Dedicated to Papa, Cynthia, Sarwar and Todd, and every individual who has put faith in diversity, not difference: you have truly rippled time for me.
To be continued…
¹Zaberdest dost: (literally) excellent friend
²Bohat accha: very good
³saag gosht: spinach gravy with meat
roti: unleavened bread traditionally baked on a stove. Commonly consumed in the subcontinent.